23 June 2017

The Guardian: “Is it too late to save Hong Kong from Beijing’s authoritarian grasp?”

Today, though, in the 20th year after the handover, this Sino-British arrangement is charitably described as limping along on life support. Many believe it is in danger of collapsing altogether, even as a pretence. As China has grown richer and more powerful, it has also become less patient and less willing to sacrifice control. In Hong Kong, meanwhile, the idea of “one country, two systems” has been riven by the sudden upsurge of enthusiasm for autonomy. Beijing has found itself confronted by increasingly disaffected and radicalised youths, who are as unwilling to compromise over democracy and civil liberties as China is itself.

For its part, Britain – Hong Kong’s old colonial master – has been reluctant to publicly criticise Beijing, as it eagerly courts Chinese business and investment. Chris Patten, the Conservative peer and last colonial governor of the city, recently said: I feel very strongly that we let down the parents of this generation of democracy activists. I think it would be a tragedy if we let down these kids as well.

There is no single narrative to explain how Hong Kong’s situation has become so troubled. Yet one cannot understand the city’s present state of permanent crisis without reckoning with a simple fact: the mainland is no longer dependent on Hong Kong. In reality, the reverse may be true. The impact of this fact is not solely economic or political; it is also psychological, transforming the way mainlanders and Hong Kongers conceive of themselves.

Howard W French

I haven’t quite kept up-to-date with the politics of Hong Kong, but this seems like a good overview of an increasingly tense situation. I think it also underlines a couple of long-term trends in global politics that few people like to acknowledge: how the power of Great Britain diminished, slowly becoming irrelevant despite their illusions of grandeur. More significantly, the changing power dynamic between authoritarian Beijing and Hong Kong reflects what we should expect in the coming years from a bolder, more assertive China. As the global economy is increasingly reliant on globalization and Chinese manufacturing, it’s not impossible to imagine a future Chinese hegemony, dominating markets by sheer size and imposing their interests on smaller economic partners and satellite states.

The Occupy Central protest in Hong Kong in October 2014
The Occupy Central protest in Hong Kong in October 2014, featuring the now-familiar yellow umbrellas. Photograph: Alex Hofford/EPA

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